Friday, February 17, 2017

So What Happens When?

It's a little early to draw any definitive conclusions about the Trump regime.  It's fair to say that it's gotten off to a rough start.  Beyond that, confirmation bias and a multiplicity of possible narratives really get in the way of any fair assessment of El Caudillo de la Basura Blanca and his crew.

Confirmation bias is a reality--most Trump supporters apparently see what's happening as a proof that the lib-tard main stream media and an entrenched Washington bureaucracy are in a hellish conspiracy to frustrate the will of the people ( well, of the minority--by 3-million voters--of the population who voted for Trump).  Most Democrats and the non-political people of the center see what's happening as the thrashing around of dangerous amateurs and 'somebody needs to do something' about it (where are the adults in the room?, they ask).  The rest of the world--all those people beyond the shores of the Atlantic and the Pacific, the people on the other side of the Wall--seem to be reaching some more guarded preliminary conclusions--write off Trump, not the United States, and for time being assume there is a black hole where the United States of America used to be.

The multiplicity of narratives is as much a problem as confirmation bias.  Trump came into office having never been elected to anything, have never served his country in any capacity, hell, not even having paid taxes in over a decade.  Doleful Republicans too gutless to admit what their party has foisted on the country, console themselves by claiming that Trump used to be a Democrat.  Gotta call bullshit on that one.  He was a New Yorker, sporting the local plumage, that's all.  He was a billionaire parcelling out bipartisan political contributions as part of the group effort to make sure the oligarchy's interests were political served, that's all.  Beyond the lack of a political track record, there is the erratic personal past--three wives, the bankruptcies, starting with great wealth, thrashing around in casinos and golf course projects, the larger than life media persona--that make him an enigma at the human level.  An unpleasant enigma, but an enigma nonetheless.  'Make America Great Again' isn't much to go on.  It certainly has a fascist ring to it (more so that anything offered up by Islamic fundamentalism, despite the efforts of Rumsfeldt et al. to label that baffling and contradictory movement 'Islamofascism').

On a human level you can make some educated guesses about Trump, but unless you care about the man, that's beside the point.  And, besides Trump and his associates, there is the whole question of how institutions and individual actors are going to react.  The Senate, the House of Representatives, the federal government as a whole, the military have never been tested this way.  It's probably childish and naive to put much faith in, say, the courts, as the final  safeguard against tyranny, a role they're given in the innocent mindset of most conservative American political thinkers, but their responses will emphatically effect how this is going to play out.

So, if you are interested in how the situation is going to unfold, there simply isn't enough to go on, and in that vacuum preconceived notions have too much weight.

All that said, a rocky start.  And, interestingly, all the rough patches have, basically, been sought out.  The fiascoes over the Wall and the Travel Ban were self-inflicted, in the sense that the regime itself started things rolling.  Rather than starting with something with widespread bi-partisan support (infrastructure, anyone?) or something of substance requiring heavy lifting (healthcare reform beyond sloganeering?), the Trump regime began by pandering to its base, to the general consternation of everyone not part of that base.   In my opinion, these guys haven't done a particularly good job dealing with the fallout from the, er, mixed reception their first initiatives out of the box, have received.  They almost blew their fingers off, lighting the cherry bomb, then failing to throw it.  The Travel Ban and the legal strategies associated with it, in particular, are astonishing.  Sometime needs to tell Team Trump that 'do overs' really aren't' possible in politics.  Once roiled, the waters take a long time to go still again.

So, that brings us to the question that is the title of this essay.  What is going to happen when, inevitably, the Trump crowd is no longer itself kicking off the controversy, but is called on the react to a situation out of its control?  How will these guys handle a crisis?  So far, the economy is cranking along just fine, there has been no new outbreak of regional violence anywhere in the world.  All that has happened so far has involved highly symbolic missile-related muscle flexing.  The Iranians tested a missile.  The North Koreans did the same.  The Russians deployed new intermediate range missile battalions (a treaty violation).  All of this is alarming, of course, but not on the same level as, say, an overt military intervention by Russia in the Ukraine.  So far, and he hasn't been in power long, global events have not required Trump to respond with American power.

But, every few years or so, something happens and American need their federal government.  Since the turn of the century, the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 and the economic melt-down of 2008 have been the kind of thing that a country needs a strong central government to handle.  Sooner or later, something like that will happen again.  Then we'll see.  No use trying to predict.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Manafort, Flynn and Trump--Playing the Russian Hand . . .

As a little thought experiment, let's look at the current situation in Washington from the Russian perspective.  For starters, doing so helps to cleanse the mind of irrelevant niceties like burden of proof, or even guilt or innocence.  What happened to Flynn is a useful reminder that all assets have useful lives, although the speed with which he depreciated is mind boggling, and definitely a reminder of the fragility of the biggest asset of all.

Let's assume that the Russian goal here is (realistically) to weaken the United States, reduce its international footprint and (optimistically) contribute in any way possible to that country entering an existential crisis of a magnitude similar to what Russia endured in the breakup of the old Soviet Union.  The optimistic goal (American corporate managers would call it a stretch goal) seems pretty unrealistic, but this time last year getting Trump elected to the presidency seemed about as unrealistic.  Of course, as Russians, it's important to remember that Russian assistance did not elect Trump as the American president, it provided a useful nudge, sure, it contributed, of course, but to claim it actually made Trump happen, that's overstatement.  A little humility is in order.

As Russians, let's also assume that there are elements in American politics that want to bring Trump down.  His situation is a bit like that of Nikita Khrushchev after the Cuban missile crisis.  Now, any Russian link is obviously the kiss of death (look at Paul Manafort, and he was more an eye-opener to the possibilities of the situation than an actual, functioning asset).  But it is very much in the interests of Russia to keep Trump in power as long as possible.  The man is a buffoon, and the national humiliation of the Americans at having a coward and political weakling for their president is, in itself, enormously advantageous.  Beyond that, to the extent that his legitimacy is impaired and the country's political elite is thrown in turmoil, the virtual paralysis of the country is even more advantageous.  So, it's very much in the Russian interest to keep him installed, if possible, and, if that isn't, to prolong for as long as possible the turmoil associated with his continued presence in office or eventual removal.  The ideal outcome might be have him, in place, neutered, but with a remaining limited capacity to impede any any anti-Russian moves by the United States.  In Russian dreams.  But dreams sometimes come true.

The Trump opposition is in no sense coordinated or disciplined.  Popularly elected and politically motivated Democratic legislators and the patriotic intelligence professionals of the American security establishment have some natural antipathies that could be exploited.  If Trump or his inner circle were even marginally competent, those factions could be neutralized or perhaps even turned against one another.  But, when it comes to exercising power, they aren't and unfortunately there is no way to provide Trump's team with the coaching and guidance it desperately needs.  The United States isn't Syria (yet).

Now, the American intelligence services range from opaque to impenetrable.  But the same cannot be said of the political opposition.  So, while not much can be done to prop Trump up, there may be opportunities to attack his opponents, at least in the political and media elites.  In the meantime, to use an American proverb, make hay while the sun shines.  Or, if you're old enough, as you may remember from your childhood courses on dialectics, strike when the correlation of forces is in your favor.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Deep State USA, Is There One? And the answer is . . .

(This is the final part of a series of posts on the possibility of an American Deep State and may not make sense unless you've read the preceding installments.  The previous posts are on January 23, 2017, January 25, 2017 and February 2, 2017.) 

We've got all the ingredients.  It's as if the box from Blue Apron has been opened, and everything you need to make the meal is neatly lined up on the kitchen counter.  But, we haven't made the meal yet (even if the delivery of the box earlier in the week will show up on this month's credit card cycle).

Consider:  For the last 15 years the War on Terror has involved the created of a national security apparatus which although focused on external threats, can easily be redeployed to address domestic issues.  As a matter of fact, given that virtually all incidents of terrorism on U.S. since 9/11 have been committed by U.S. citizen that redeployment (and the elimination of easy public access to any weapon that can hold more rounds than, say, a six-shooter)is what any competent security personnel would recommend if you're worried about domestic 'carnage,' to use the Caudillo's word.

Consider:  The only real impediment to doing so are fussy legalistic objections, blather about the rule of law and norms of decency, the sort of stuff that any committed revolutionary would sweep away in a heartbeat(whether from the right, like Mr. Bannon, or on the left, like, well, she hasn't surfaced yet).  The noise about frustrating the judicial review of the executive order announcing a travel ban by signing a new order before review of the current one has even concluded is a minor first step in that process.  

Consider:  National security, the safety of the Homeland (Fatherland? Das Reich?) has historically made an acceptable justification for suspensions of ordinary rules, procedures, safeguards, right.  Can anyone grok 'State of Emergency'?  How about, 'State of Siege'?  A new set of Black prisons would be another, bigger step.  Rendition of people apprehended within the borders of the U.S. to these new black prisons would be a much bigger step after that.  Or maybe just push them out of the helicopter on the ride to the their final destination for an Argentine swim? And so on.  It's not hard to imagine a progressive implementation of domestic security measures to crush popular dissent and preserve domestic order and tranquility (for a little while).

Consider: the dynamic of the previous considerations leads to the development of an embedded element in the bowels of the national security establishment, answerable to no one, hard to pinpoint, with a self-appointed mission to protect the nation from all threats, internal and external.  It would only be a matter of time before such an element turned on and tamed its political 'masters'.

And that, gentle reader, is the definition of a Deep State.